There is a beautiful sequence in Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal (2009), where, in the song Yeh Dooriyan, Deepika Padukone’s Meera is sitting in the car, going towards new things in her life and crying, perhaps thinking about a love and life that could have been. In Ali’s retelling of the structure of the film, he fails to create that kind of magic. Love Aaj Kal (2020) is not a sequel of his previous film, but follows the same basic narrative – two stories, separated by time but what stays common between them is the love involved, the human connections. What Ali tries telling through both the films is that no matter what the era, the language of love is more or less the same. But what worked in the previous version of this narrative doesn’t work in 2020, because Ali has now made too many films, has written too many characters and seems to have lost the plot. Apart from his Tamasha, nothing seems to have worked, majorly because his characters are always the same, and so are his stories. So what he has at hand is the telling, which goes for a toss in Love Aaj Kal.
Set in 2020 and 1990, the biggest flaw of the film is that the time periods aren’t very far off from each other. So it becomes very (VERY) difficult to buy Randeep Hooda (who plays Raj, a version of Rishi Kapoor’s Veer) as a 50-something year old man, who was in love with Leena (Aarushi Sharma) in his 20s. Raj is not the character’s real name – it’s Raghu (later changed to Raj). Raghu is played by Kartik Aaryan, and so is Veer (2020). Both the men are in love, madly and deeply. But what comes off as a Romeo-Juliet-isque romance between Raghu and Leena, is straightforward ‘stalking’ between Veer and Zoe (Sara Ali Khan), at least in the beginning.
Veer is a guy driven by romance. He needed to have a setback in his love life to realise *insert drumroll* that he needs to focus on his career. Zoe is his antithesis. She is a career driven woman, who needed to have a setback in her *insert drumroll again* inner self to realise *insert drumroll, again* that she needed to focus on love because both love and career aren’t mutually exclusive.
Where Raghu’s/Raj’s love doesn’t see the light of the day, you know Veer’s will. But did we need Veer’s love to see the light of the day? Aren’t we tired of women having to make a choice, always? Do we need writers to write career oriented women in the same stereotypical way? I have women friends who are career oriented, they’re nothing like Zoe. If Sara Ali Khan herself is career oriented, is she at all like Zoe? Perhaps not. Zoe is a complex character, but Imtiaz Ali just doesn’t know what to do with her, and that’s perhaps why eventually she’s all over the place. The biggest character trait of a career driven Zoe is that she wears an iWatch at all times. And also, for a career driven woman, she has too much free time at hand to listen to Raj’s (Hooda) story.
Through his film, Ali warns us about the horrors of a life that is just career driven and the hook-up culture. He tells us that at the end of the day, what stays is love, human connections. But where he fails miserably is that he makes his hot-head, career driven character a woman (Zoe), furthering the cause of patriarchy, establishing that it is love that women must succumb to in the end. His other heroine, Leena isn’t like this, or so I would like to believe. Ali doesn’t tell us what she does. Raghu is studying medicine at first and then working his way up at restaurants. While Zoe’s career is important, Leena’s is ignored. She is just supposed to marry Raghu, that is her life motto. But in the end, she is the one running a successful cafe in ‘Bombay’. She chooses a life of dignity over being treated badly, but we never venture into her because she’s not Ali’s story. A messed up Zoe is.
It’s a lot like one of the scenes in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, where the publisher tells Jo that if her protagonist is a woman, she should either marry or die. No one wants to know Leena’s journey, or so Ali believes. Everyone is too invested in Zoe, who, eventually comes back to Veer. Though, I must give her the benefit of the doubt because she does tell him that she wants both love and her career and that her life will always in imbalanced, but still.
Talking about the performances, the leads, Kartik Aaryan and Sara Ali Khan are as bad as the script. Neither of them are promising and both just cannot deliver. Aaryan does show potential while playing Raghu, but that’s probably only because the writing of Raghu is decent. As Veer, he’s as messy as the character gets. Sara Ali Khan is worse than him. In each frame she overacts, even when she’s dancing. Perhaps the “tum mujhe tang karne lage ho” memes now make sense. She is what Kareena Kapoor Khan was when she was new. But what worked for Kapoor will not work for Ali Khan – industry dynamics have changed (a little, but they have), and when we have talents like Mrunal Thakur and Alaya F coming into the mainstream, Ali Khan really needs to tap into herself. Doing Coolie No. 1 after this film, is perhaps not the ideal choice.
Zoe is a complex character, as I said before too, and Ali Khan just doesn’t have it in her to be able to pull of her complexity, given Imtiaz Ali’s weak writing. When Deepika Padukone had played Ali’s Meera in the 2009 film, she was very raw too, but there was something about her (maybe the zeal to push through opportunities) that made Meera so loveable. Zoe is a far cry from loveable.
What’s even worse is their chemistry – because there is none. The best moment in the film (of course apart from the end credits rolling) is when Raghu and Leena break out into a breakdance-y dance. And the worst is when Zoe and Veer have a fight while they’re at dinner at his parents house (who are supposedly very rich but drink Sula Wine. Is this because they don’t have taste or do they not know good wine?).
So in a film where the leads can’t act, all the burden falls on the supporting cast – led by Randeep Hooda and debutante Aarushi Sharma, both of whom are lovely in their sequences. As Raj, Hooda shows all of his skills as an actor, but he’s wasted in that role. Maybe if he was Veer, this film would’ve been a different film altogether. Sharma plays Leena, and lends her a certain dignified grace. She’s confident in her performance, and that’s perhaps what Ali Khan lacks. Or maybe the latter is just too confident.
Though the music of both the films is by Pritam, the first one stands as a genius in itself while the second is, for the lack of a better word, boring. So, basically, there’s almost nothing in the film that absolutely stands out, except Aarushi Sharma.
All in all, Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal is perhaps worse than what I thought could be his worst – Jab Harry Met Sejal. Even though there was nothing for Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma to tap into, in that film, they performed decently on screen. At least there was that. In Love Aaj Kal, there is absolutely nothing one might want to watch (again, except Aarushi Sharma and a very wasted Randeep Hooda). If I made a list of “Worst Films of 2020” by the end of this year, I’m sure Love Aaj Kal will be on it.
One thing that I have to mention, is that in one scene Aaryan’s Veer has to go to the “Himalayas” and when Ali Khan’s Zoe goes out looking for him, she almost know where he is. The HIMALAYAS is not a particular place, but a mountain range.
How did she know where he was! And that’s what’s wrong with the film the most – there is absolutely no struggle.
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